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I-League: Leaders Minerva Punjab face East Bengal in potential title decider

Home team Minerva Punjab are one point ahead of Neroca while East Bengal are a further five points adrift at third, with all three teams in the race for the I-League title.

football Updated: Feb 12, 2018 20:13 IST
Ashutosh Sharma
Ashutosh Sharma
Hindustan Times, Panchkula
I-League,Minerva Punjab,East Bengal
Minerva Punjab and East Bengal coaches and players during the pre-match press conference ahead of their I-League clash in Panchkula on Monday.(AIFF)

Tuesday’s clash between Minerva Punjab FC and East Bengal FC can be the title decider for both the sides in the I-League. While East Bengal have had their fair share of ups and downs, Minerva have been solid in setting the pace this season.

In their home game, East Bengal had rallied from two goals down to draw against Minerva Punjab FC, and coach Khalid Jamil will be looking to inspire his side to claim three points.

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“They are a good team. They have 100 per cent record, so this match will not be easy for us. Still, there is a long way to go,” said Jamil, who guided Aizawl FC to the title last season. “We’ll surely go for the title. We still have matches. We must think positive and get positive results. They are scoring goals and that is the main thing that has clicked for them.”

THREE-WAY TUSSLE

Minerva enjoy a one-point advantage over second-placed Neroca FC with 29 points from 13 outings. Neroca have 28 points, but have played 15 games, two more than Minerva and East Bengal. A win will cement their lead. The red-and-gold brigade have 23 points and will see it as a chance to close the gap. They did it last year with the title race against Aizawl FC going to the wire.

Keeping Minerva forwards led by Chencho Gyeltshen at bay will be the main task for Jamil’s boys. East Bengal’s new signing, Uzbekistan international Dilshod Sharofetdinov, will be unavailable due to visa issues.

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His signing saw East Bengal release Bazie Armand, who switched to Minerva and proved effective in their hard-fought win over Shillong Lajong FC in the last match.

Jamil though said he doesn’t mind losing Armand as long as his side wins.

SOGGY GROUND

Incessant rain has left the outfield heavy and will add to the worries of both teams. Minerva coach Wangkhem Khogen Singh looked concerned over the condition of the ground and said it could have an impact. However, he stressed the importance of the game and said a win will make Minerva favourites for the title.

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“Every match is important from here on because we have not won the league yet. We might have to go to the last week of the league. So, every match is a final for us and East Bengal is very competitive. The team has no injury concerns.”

Neither team could train on Monday due to a water-logged ground. On Sunday, both teams had training sessions at the Minerva Academy ground in Mohali.

“It was the match commissioner’s instruction that due to the critical condition of the pitch, it should be allowed to settle and no team should practice. It’s a newly laid truf at Tau Devi Lal Stadium. So, both the teams had their sessions at the academy ground.

“ Today, not even that was possible,” said Henna Singh Bajaj, Director - Minerva Punjab FC.

First Published: Feb 12, 2018 19:28 IST